Retired NYPD Detective Tom Verni is suing the LGBT Network on Long Island, where he volunteered for many years, alleging that staff members there, including chief executive David Kilmnick, engineered a social media campaign to falsely smear him for being a pedophile after Verni and others became critical of the agency.
A former NYPD detective who was a frequent and reassuring presence at demonstrations and LGBTQ events when he was with the police department has sued a Long Island organization charging that it defamed him on a website and Twitter account.
“On or about July 8, 2016, certain websites and blogs were created which falsely depicted Mr. Verni as a ‘child molestor’ and ‘pedophile,’ among other things,” reads the suit, which names the LGBT Network, its chief executive, and two former employees as defendants. “A Twitter page was also created called ‘Not Tom Verni’ which had graphic and inappropriate photographs depicting pedophilia. The Twitter page contained a noose with the words ‘It’s Time We Bring This Back For Pedophiles.’ All of this online material falsely accused Mr. Verni of contacting, luring, and molesting underage children.”
Tom Verni, who is openly gay and a 22-year veteran of the NYPD, spent his last years with the department working in the Community Affairs unit where he was the LGBTQ community liaison. He was commonly seen at demonstrations and events produced by queer groups. Since his retirement in 2013, Verni has appeared on cable news shows where he comments on police procedure and police shootings, according to his Linkedin.com profile.
Verni was a longtime volunteer for the Network. In 2015, he joined with a group of former employees and board members who charged that David Kilmnick, the agency’s chief executive, was mistreating employees, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit charges that Kilmnick responded by instructing an employee, Adam Lombardi, then the Network’s social media manager, to create the fake social media accounts charging that Verni is a pedophile and to distribute that content to media outlets, members of New York’s City Council, and LGBTQ groups in the New York area. The Twitter account was shut down, but the blog, which has a single July 2015 post, remains online. When Verni searched for the IP address of the website, he found that it was within a one-mile radius of Lombardi’s home, the lawsuit says.
Last year, Verni sued the Network, Kilmnick, Lombardi, and Michael Serao, who once worked at the Network. Serao is active in Democratic Party politics in Queens, as is Kilmnick. Verni is seeking $5 million for the damage to his reputation. Gay City News was aware of the feuding last year, but only found the lawsuit recently.
Anthony J. Colleluori, Verni’s attorney, said he is in discussions with Serao about his testifying on Verni's behalf, in which case Serao would be dropped as a defendant.
In 2016, an individual who is not a party in the lawsuit gave Gay City News copies of emails exchanged among staff at the Network. In one dated August 22, 2016, Lombardi tells Kilmnick that he will cooperate with Verni’s attorney “for what you ordered me to do to him regarding the blogs, email, and social media to assassinate his character on that workday when you made me leave early to carry out your hit job.”
Other emails indicate that Lombardi was among the Network employees who complained about Kilmnick.
The Network’s most recent Form 990, which is for 2014, shows that it had revenues of just over $1.7 million, with nearly $1.2 million of that coming from government sources. The Network runs various programs on Long Island. While a relatively quiet agency outside of Long Island for many years, it has adopted a higher profile in recent months, including organizing a protest of Donald Trump’s visit to Suffolk County on July 28.
In an email, a Network spokesperson wrote, “The allegations are completely false, baseless, and frivolous. The LGBT Network has been on the forefront fighting for the rights of the LGBT community for over two decades and will continue to do so.”
Kilmnick and the Network are represented by the same lawyer — also listed in court documents as the attorney of record for Serao — who did not respond to a request for comment, and Lombardi has his own attorney. That attorney did not respond to a call seeking comment. Serao also declined comment.
While calling someone a pedophile is likely libelous on its face, Verni may face two issues. A judge could find that he is a public figure given his recent appearances on cable news shows and so he would have to prove that Kilmnick and the Network knew the comments were false when they were published, assuming Kilmnick and the Network published the comments.
Additionally, absent some record that shows Kilmnick ordered Lombardi to publish the defamatory statements about Verni, the Network could argue that Lombardi acted on his own and point to the fact that the comments appear to have been posted from or near Lombardi’s home as evidence of that.